A Buddhist monk, a leftist guerrilla warrior and a technology executive walk into a bar called Changes. “Ah the nature of change,” the monk says, “the world is always in flux, permanence is an illusion and attachment to permanence is the cause of suffering.” The leftist guerrilla replies, “But Mao said there must be a great leap forward.” The tech executive says, “Fast Company says change is happening faster than ever and we must always be the next big thing.” The bartender shrugs her shoulders and asks how each of them is planning to pay for their beers. “Everyone with ATM money again?” she says, “Go somewhere else to make your change.”
Can you manage change?
Sorry for the poor attempt at humor. People talk about change management and say that that is what they do. But can you really manage change? I believe you can be intentional about moving toward change. Yet saying you are managing change gives an illusion of control that I do not think is real in dynamic human systems. Organizations are human systems and are describes as “intelligent, creative, adaptive, self-organizing, [and] meaning-seeking” as Meg Wheatley described. While you can force change on people, I do not believe you can force people to change.
There typically is a spark that initiates the change. This could come from outside the organization – a crisis, a major shift in the market, a new mandate or regulation. Or it could come from inside the organization in the form of a vision championed by either formal leaders or through a bottom up effort of informal leaders.
Focusing the effort
When done well, the organization will take advantage of the spark by being intentional in focusing the change effort. Is the organization ready to change and makes the best of the challenge or opportunity? How will leaders choose to invest the time, energy and resources into envisioning and implementing change? What new structures need to be created to support the desired change going forward?
Creating organizational change intentionally means taking time to thoughtfully design and engage in meaningful dialogue. Does the past need to be mourned before a new beginning can be imagined? Is the environment safe enough for people to bring their whole selves to the endeavor? If not, what will increase those conditions of safety?
Systems of support
Once the change is implemented –whether it is new goals and aspirations envisioned in a strategic plan or implementing a new technology system or building a new program – ensuring you have systems in place to support the new change and allow it to take hold is key. Identifying, harnessing and sharing stories of success can be a powerful way to help the change stick.
What change are you trying to make in 2020? Let's talk about them
When I get caught up in an anxiety spiral, my thoughts quickly go worse case scenario. Something has happened, I get triggered and I run straight up the ladder of inference, jumping to all sorts of conclusions. Too often I am not even conscious that I have leapt from an incident – something someone did or did not do, something someone said, even a facial expression – to all sorts of beliefs about that, and most critically -- accepting those beliefs as fact.
The ladder of inference created by Chris Argyris breaks down what our brains do so naturally and so quickly. We jump from the observable data to the data we pay attention. We then assign meaning to it, make assumptions, jump to conclusions based on our beliefs and then often take action based on this chain of thought. All this can happen in a split second.
I have found that the ABC framework is a useful tool for slowing myself down and examining the validity of my thoughts and conclusions. Originating in cognitive psychology and the work of Aaron Beck, the acronym stands for Adversity, Belief and Consequences
The tool is useful because it gives you a framework to break down what just happened. Here is an example of how you would use the tool:
This first step captures what just happened. The next step is to examine those thoughts and beliefs.
Then one step further takes each of the worse case scenario beliefs, examines their likelihood and helps you play out alternative scenarios as well as make sounder decisions about next steps.
Adversity: A colleague yawns during my presentation.
The next time you find yourself caught in an unhelpful thought loop try this out for yourself. Learn more in the book The Resilience Factor by Karen Reivich, PhD and Andrew Shatte, PhD.
I consider myself a life-long learner. In fact ‘learner’ is one of my top five strengths in both the Gallup StrengthsFinder assessment as well as Via values assessment. I spent some time in December looking back at the year and one of the things that I thought about my year in terms of learning.
Learning shows up in a couple different ways for me. I love to read and have shared short summaries of a few of the books I have read this year in these posts – summer book reviews – winter book reviews. I also ask myself the question, “what did I learn?” each week when I do my weekly reflection. Thus I capture the informal learning that emerges as I work.
Designing learning experiences
I design learning experiences for others as well. This year that included speaking engagements including workshops and sessions on a variety of topics:
I also created more in depth learning experiences for others. I led day-long workshops on building partnership and board development for a network of nonprofits as part of a longer series of trainings on strengthening organizational sustainability. One of the highlights of the past year was partnering with a colleague and 14 (relatively) new executive directors to facilitate a program designed to meet their specific needs. Through content and peer coaching, the group evolved over the course of eight months from a collection of individuals to a group who trusted each other with their most pressing challenges. It was so rewarding to support and help cultivate that shift.
I participated in formal learning experiences offered by others. When I do, I practice my novice sketch-noting skills. A few highlights included:
Nonprofit Quarterly’s webinar series on evaluative practice led by Jara Dean-Coffey and Jeanne Bell. The series stretched my conception of program evaluation and building learning organizations. My biggest take-away was the caution to be mindful of the purpose of any research. Part of this means making explicit the recognition that evaluation is always inherently subjective, even though it is often perceived as objective and the arbiter of worth and value. Too many evaluation and other research efforts for programs that serve marginalized communities have been designed with the organization or researcher’s needs in mind, leaving the impact on the community out of the picture. The impact of this approach may be unintended or unintentional yet is extractive nonetheless. Learning and evaluation needs to be in service of the mission and mindful of impact, not just because one is curious.
Learning with the brain in mind
A session at ASAE’s Annual Conference in August focused on the basics of neuroscience and learning. Scientists now know that as adults we have neuroplasticity. So old dogs can learn new tricks! Designing learning with the brain in mind includes connecting the new information/content emotionally to the person’s previous experience, working with the material actively and repetition. It was good to hear that keeping my brain healthy includes all the habits we all have heard are healthy generally – staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, moving regularly, eating healthy, cultivating mindfulness and stimulating our brain on a regular basis. The last few years I have managed to make all of those regular practices, especially by reminding myself – something is better than nothing.
An exciting intensive training that I participated in focused on Collaborative Innovation. It centered on how to build collaborative networks intentionally to bring together organizations and groups of people. Networks have the potential to solve wicked problems beyond the capacity of one organization. Yet collaboration can be challenging and time intensive. By incorporating aspects of human centered design with iteration, rapid prototyping and testing, the network can move to action and not get bogged down in analysis paralysis. When started with intention they include both the power brokers in a system and those impacted by the system at the grassroots level, starting with the friendlies and then spiraling out.
An important skill in facilitating is harvesting -- designing a meeting, a convening, a retreat with a set of intentions and outcomes in mind that will be harvested from the conversation. The degree of stickiness of the outcomes from a process is dependent on the level of engagement of those participating. When people talk about buy in, they need to remember that buy in is built not bought. Just telling people about a vision or a direction is not enough.
Dewey contended that there is no real learning without reflection. “We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” What are you reflecting on as the new year launches?
The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups
By Daniel Coyle
What creates successful group and organizational cultures? That is the question that Daniel Coyle pursues in his book. “Culture is a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.” US culture tends to focus on the charismatic, visionary leader yet Coyle’s research finds that successful groups tend to do lots of small things towards success rather than large dramatic things. Three key skills emerge – build safety, share vulnerability and establish purpose. Like Jim Collin’s Good to Great, Coyle finds a lot of quiet, observational leaders who cultivate a healthy ecosystem and group around them through lots of questions at key points to help team members learn to think on their own. There are lots of useful and actionable points in the book. I wish for a future when business books highlight as many women as men in their examples without having women in the title!
Design Thinking for the Greater Good: Innovation in the Social Sector
By Jeanne Liedtka, Randy Salzman & Daisy Azer
Design thinking is a problem solving approach that is human centered. It prioritizes really getting to know the people involved in your challenge and looking at the world from their perspective. It focuses on multiple options, experimentation and iteration. This method has served to democratize design and Jeanne Liedtke’s model makes it particularly accessible (What is? What if? What wows? And What works?). While the process originated in Silicon Valley, Liedtke and her team profile how design thinking has been used in the social sector. They include case studies from government, national, state and local nonprofit organizations – from the US and internationally. Each instance showcases the real experience – from the excitement at the start of the project to the dead-ends and false starts to results that in many instances could not have been envisioned from the outset. Using design thinking, the professionals highlighted get to see their organization from the perspective of whom they serve. With this, they are able to identify the ways in which the system is not made for the client. Then they are able to imagine how they might make things better. This is all in the service of having clients have a better and more humane experience while getting the help the organization is designed to deliver. If you have just heard about design thinking and have wondered how it might apply in your situation, this book is a great place to start.
An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization
By Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey
“In most organizations, everyone is doing a second job no one is paying them for…Most people are spending time and energy covering up their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, hiding their inadequacies, hiding their uncertainties, hiding their limitations. Hiding.” (pg1, An Everyone Culture)
What if this were not necessary? An Everyone Culture describes a few unicorn organizations that have truly put people at the center of their purpose. Developing and investing in people. Not as an afterthought or bonus for just for a few people – for everyone. Where the culture revolves around helping everyone recognize, acknowledge and learn from their mistakes, build on their strengths and stretch and grow. Lots of organizations give lip service to the idea that people are their most important asset. Yet they rarely act as if that were really true. Each of the three organizations the authors describe as deliberately developmental organizations (DDO) do this through a multitude of practices that center transparency, regular feedback across all levels, team building and professional development – at the individual, team and organizational level. While the authors went into their research assuming that being a DDO would contribute to the business success of these organizations, they concluded by the end that in fact being a DDO is the cause of the business’ success. Much has been written about how emotional intelligence and people skills will be the key differentiators as work continues to morph and shift. Learn from these leaders what that might look like.
I recently worked with a team to help them get a better sense of each team member’s strengths. They wanted to think about how they could better integrate those strengths into their work every day. Rather than focusing on trying to fix your weaknesses, building on what already comes naturally can help you move into a state of flow more frequently and do better work.
In his book Drive, Daniel Pink describes what researchers have learned about motivation. External motivators – incentivizing behavior with rewards—can work in the short run. Yet for knowledge work, extrinsic rewards are actually demotivating over time. Instead mastery, autonomy and purpose are the keys to tapping into people’s own motivation. Learning more about your team’s strengths and giving them more opportunity to use those strengths gives them more chances to feel mastery and flow. This creates a virtuous circle of motivation!
A good place to start is to invest in the Gallup Strengthsfinder assessment. It is as easy as buying the CliftonStrengths 2.0 book or Strengths Leadership. With the book, you receive a code that enables you to take the assessment and learn about your top five strengths (out of 34). You receive reports that explain how these show up in your work and life. Both books are in the 10-$15 range so are pretty affordable. If you are looking at this for yourself, you might consider tracking which of your strengths you are using regularly in your work over a week or a month and then see what is missing. If you are not using a strength as often, how can you build it in?
Gallup organizes their 34 strength themes into four categories or domains. These include
executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking. Executing is all about getting things done. Influencing is about having a wider impact on a broader audience. Relationship building is pretty self-explanatory – it is all about emotional intelligence and the people side of things. Strategic thinking is about learning and scanning with a futuristic perspective – imagining what could be and helping the team make more informed decisions.
Putting strengths to work
I have had teams each take the assessment and then we had conversations about how we might capitalize on the strengths that the team brings to the table. Some questions that we considered included:
• What are your strengths and why are they important to you?
• How are you using your strengths in your work?
• How could you better integrate your strengths into your work?
• Are there projects coming up that your strengths might make you uniquely suited to contribute to?
We then stepped up a level and looked at our strengths as a totality. We plotted everyone’s strengths against the four domains to see our strengths as a composite. A sample of what this could look like is to the left. We then discussed:
• Where is the team strong? How does that show up in our work? How you work together?
• How can we capitalize on the team’s collective strengths?
• Are there gaps that might mean the team has blind spots? What does this mean for our work?
Integrating strengths into your work
How will the group stay aware of each other’s strengths? Just having one conversation about strengths will not serve to keep these front and center as you do your work and plan for the future. Some possibilities include:
• Starting staff meetings periodically with a question about how team members have used a strength in their work recently.
• How can you incorporate considering each team member’s strengths as you plan for who will be part of future projects?
• If they can’t add a project to their workload, could they advise on the project?
• How can you build it into your processes and how might you shape each team member’s assignments to better capitalize on their strengths?
Want help identifying and tapping into the strengths of your team? Inquire about a coaching session.
My passion is helping nonprofit organizations and associations have a greater mission impact.